Don’t resist the risk, says Paul Davis Restoration ‘zee
Formerly a speech therapist who played it safe, Sarah Gabbard, with daughters Ava and Olivia, bought a Paul Davis franchise after tragedy struck and has since built a $5-million enterprise from various businesses.
Today, Sarah Gabbard expects the various businesses under her Kentucky Bluegrass Management Group umbrella to gross $5 million in annual revenue. That’s from an industrial cleaning company called Pressure Tech, plus a Paul Davis restoration franchise, a Black Diamond pest control franchise and most recently a group of buildings she bought that are ripe for redevelopment.
“We were hit really hard economically in this area,” she says about Russell, Kentucky, and talking like the confident, risk-taking entrepreneur she has become. “So downtown looks like a ghost town, and these buildings were cute. I’m wanting to do some new housing and bring downtown back.
“I’m excited,” she adds. “I’ve got some big things in my plans.”
Her life is much different than four years ago, when tragedy struck on May 28, 2015. Her husband, Chad, was out of town for business, staying at a condo they had purchased in Lexington. Sarah tends to oversleep and Chad usually called first thing to make sure she was up, but on this day there was no call.
“We had been high school sweethearts and married for so long, when I didn’t hear from him that morning I knew something was off,” she says. “I called him and it went straight to voicemail. I kept calling … and it was like an invisible force hit me in the stomach. I ran out and got in the car, and it was a two-hour drive to Lexington.
“I remember seeing my speedometer and I saw, oh my god I’m going 98 miles an hour. It was the fastest and longest drive of all time. My hands were shaking so hard I couldn’t get the key in the front door.” Chad, at age 36 and the picture of health, was dead of a congenital heart condition.
Gabbard never went back to her speech therapy job, which she had enjoyed partly because it was safe and a counterpoint to Chad’s more risky venture as a business owner.
Instead she immediately focused on saving Pressure Tech, the company her husband had started. “I felt like the people he had employed had been with him for so long, they are the salt of the earth, the hardest, most loyal workers ever. I felt responsible,” she said.
“I knew Pressure Tech work was cyclical; in the winter it comes to a screeching halt. So the first year I was in the driver’s seat of Pressure Tech and I could not stand it,” watching her employees sit around during the slow times and eat up all the profits made in busier months.
She bought a Paul Davis franchise, where initial investment ranges from $188,000 to $391,000, originally to keep the Pressure Tech people working. “I thought it would just be a filler,” but “it really exploded,” from a mere $26,000 on her tax return for the last four months of 2016, to $675,000 in revenue her first full year. “Then it’s taken on a life of its own.”
Next she decided to buy a Black Diamond pest control franchise, based in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s really new, they’ve just kind of dipped their toe in the water for the last year or two,” she says, and a phone conversation with the business development executive “sold me, because their setup was similar to the people at Paul Davis.”
Now she’s investing in senior care and housing and whatever catches her interest next, and feeling good about how her girls are doing, today age 12 and 15. “They’re tough little cookies. We’ve battled through it,” she says.
Asked for her advice for other entrepreneurs, she doesn’t hesitate. “My response is so different now than what it would have been four years ago. It made me realize how very short life is. I kept saying, oh, we can do this later. We can do this in five years,” she says. “You might not have those five years. You’re not promised tomorrow.”
Chad had always hounded her, she says, to start her own business, do her own thing, but before she always resisted the risk. “He would love what I’m doing right now. He would just eat it up.”